Video: Foong Mien Shi
Prominent issues and events that happened over the last 50 years of Singapore’s history will get a sassy, sparkly and satirical take in the Dim Sum Dollies’ The History of Singapore Part 2: The Growing Up Years.
Seven years after staging part one, Selena Tan and Pam Oei, together with newest member Denise Tan, are returning with their ostentatious outfits and delightfully over-the-top antics to provide a light-hearted and, er, creatively alternative glimpse at post-independence headliners on the Little Red Dot.
“We’re covering history from 1965 onwards, so it’s more recent,” explained Pam during our interview with the bubbly trio at Dream Academy Studios. “And since there are a lot of people who were around during this period, there’s less room for making stuff up, but we don’t really care – our job is just to reflect what’s happening in society.”
“Laughter is guaranteed but the facts are not,” Selena chuckled, before Denise chimed in, “These may or may not be in the history books!”
Among the talking points featured in the show include Hong Lim Park protests, the demolishing of kampongs, former Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew’s resignation, train breakdowns, the fishball stick outrage, and – a personal favourite of the Dollies’ – the slew of catchy campaigns from over the decades.
“I loved the campaign jingles when I was younger,” said Selena, who herself was involved in 2010’s “Love Your Ride” movement with fellow Dollies Pam and Emma Yong, who sadly passed away in 2012 from stomach cancer.
Denise, who is kicking off her first full-length show with the Dollies since debuting in last year’s Crazy Christmas! Ting Tong Belles, also had an obsession with the catchy tunes. “I remember being on a drive to Genting with my family when I was about six or seven years old, and I sang the National Courtesy Campaign jingle all the way there,” she recalled. “My parents could not shut me up."
Hossan Leong’s dream of becoming an SQ girl fulfilled
Joining the Dollies on stage as their “chopstick” – or, to put it more bluntly, a calefare – is funnyman Hossan Leong, who has worked with them countless times, including in part one of The History of Singapore. “I support them – like a bra,” he quipped.
Like Selena, Pam and Denise, Hossan will take on a variety of characters in all kinds of costumes. His favourite is Teamy the Productivity Bee, which he can be seen dressed up as (antennae, wings and all) in the show’s posters.
Another highly-anticipated role of Hossan’s (for both him and us) is that of a Singapore Airlines air stewardess. “[I’ll be wearing] a kebaya,” he gushed. “I can’t wait because I’ve always wanted to be an SQ girl.” The skit that involves this, as one might guess, centres on the rise of Changi Airport and Singapore Airlines.
Read on for our chat with Hossan and the Dim Sum Dollies on their own growing up years in Singapore, historical moments in their lives and more:
Catch the Dim Sum Dollies in The History of Singapore Part 2: The Growing Up Years from 11 to 23 December at Esplanade Theatre at 8pm on Tuesdays to Fridays, and at 3pm & 8pm on weekends.
Tickets are priced from $48 to $118 for the preview on 11 December, and from $58 to $138 for standard shows.
Out of all the topics covered in The History of Singapore Part 2, which is closest to your heart?
Selena: The “Two is Enough” population control campaign. My mum and dad were fined for having their third, fourth and fifth kids. It was a bit painful but we’ve made it funny in the show!
Denise: That particular campaign is close to all our hearts because my family is a direct product of that – my parents only had me and my brother.
Pamela: Mine too. Our parents were very obedient, but Selena’s…
Selena: They were rebels. All the way, mum and dad, all the way!
What’s a fond memory you have growing up in Singapore?
Hossan: I really enjoyed my childhood because I don’t remember studying. (Laughs) My parents always brought me to places like the zoo, Botanic Gardens and the bird park to play, so I had a lot of fun growing up.
Denise: There was a time in the 70s and early 80s when all the playgrounds had a certain design. The one I grew up with had the pelican with a hole in its head for you to climb through. I know the dragon gets a lot of attention, but the pelican was my favourite.
Pam: I remember that once upon a time, playgrounds all had sand – now they’re all rubberised.
Selena: We’ve become too safe which is not a very Dim Sum Dollies thing.
What’s a historical moment in your own life?
Pam: I gave birth without epidural.
Selena: When I decided to join this industry full-time and become a professional. It was historical – particularly for my parents. (Laughs)
Denise: I would say becoming a part of the Dim Sum Dollies was pretty historical [cue touched hugs from Selena and Pam]. It’s been a joyful, ecstatic, terrifying rollercoaster ride (laughs) but yeah, that’s pretty history-making for me.
Hossan: When the French government recognised what I do and gave me a sort of knighthood [Ed note: He is talking about the Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, or Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters, which was awarded to him in 2010]. My father actually teared up, which is something I would never have dreamed of because he used to say, “Aiyah, actors won’t earn money one lah! What kind of job is that?”
Selena and Pam, how have you changed since becoming a Dim Sum Dolly?
Selena: Oh my god, I’m 12 years older already. But I don’t think I’ve changed.
Pam: I don’t think Selena has changed, which is a good thing – she’s still very driven (although she sometimes pretends not to be) and she is and still is one of the most generous people I know. I think the only thing that has changed is the scale of our shows, which has exploded.
Selena: We started in a recital studio with just 300 people!
Denise, how has your journey with the Dim Sum Dollies been since joining them two years ago?
Denise: Quite delicious – we’ve eaten a lot! Even though this is the first full-length show that we’re doing together, they’ve eased me into things quite nicely, so in a way, I feel like I’ve done this for a lot longer than I actually have, which gives me a sense of security. I don’t feel like I’ve been thrown into the deep end with the sharks.
Since you’re wearing school uniforms in the poster, tell us how you were like as students.
Selena: I was involved in practically everything, even swimming and running! I can’t believe it.
Pam: I’m an IJ (Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus) girl, so I was and still am very loud. I was also involved in drama from an early age and was quite a goody two shoes, then I went haywire in JC (junior college).
Denise: I’ve always been a goody two shoes – I was so geeky, I loved studying for Chinese tests and was just very enthusiastic as a student! I joined the choir and volunteered to do skits, and believe it or not, I was in track and field, did hurdles and high jumps, and played basketball, which stopped when I realised I hadn’t grown and everyone else had…
Pam: I’ve always been short. Since primary one, I’ve been one of the shortest in my class.
Selena: I was the tallest in my class up until primary six.
If audiences had to catch just one scene in the entire show, which one should it be?
Selena: (Laughs) You mean they can come in halfway? Cannot, okay! You’ve got to be there from the beginning to the end!
Pam: Our ticket price covers the whole show lor, but if you want to catch just one part, then it’s you who will rugi (lose out).